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The Champion Forum Podcast

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Thank you for listening to The Champion Forum Podcast with Jeff Hancher! Last week we talked about how to identify a toxic employee. The biggest mistake leaders make is that they wait too long to address the toxic behavior and it has a negative effect on their company. So, this week we are going to talk about why leaders don’t address toxic employees and how you can prepare to manage and potentially terminate a toxic employee. Regardless of the outcome, remember that your goal as a leader should be to coach the employee and try to help them grow and improve. Then, if termination does become necessary, you can know that you did all that you could.

Why do some leaders avoid addressing a toxic employee?

1) They want to avoid conflict

  • Telling someone that their behavior is unacceptable isn’t fun!

  • By neglecting to confront toxic behavior, you are being just as negligent as the bad employee.

  • Check out the episodes Navigating Tough Conversations Part 1 and Part 2 for more information.

2) They are afraid it will take too much time and energy to find, hire, and train a replacement.

  • This is most often the case if the toxic employee is a peak performer.

  • As painful as it is to lose a peak performer, nothing is more important than protecting your company’s culture.

  • While hiring can be a challenge, it’s short-term pain. Living with a toxic employee will cause long-term pain.

3) The leader is hoping the person will leave on their own.

  • Toxic employees rarely leave on their own.

  • Why would they leave especially when they might have a leader that is tolerant of them?

  • Toxic employees never improve on their own with no intervention.

  • This approach could mean putting up with years of headache and destruction.

Q: What do you think is the biggest reason people avoid confronting toxic employees? Do you think it has more to do with fear of the other person, fear for themselves, or fear for the company? Why?

Steps to addressing a toxic employee

1) Set Clear Behavioral Expectations

  • Establish clear expectations for employee behavior and hold them accountable to those standards.

  • Stand strong. Be firm and clear on the behaviors that you value and expect.

  • Ask them if they agree to the expectations.

  • Express your appreciation for their commitment and clearly state that you do not expect to need to meet to discuss their behaviors again.

  • Remember, 50% of an employee’s work performance is based upon the results they accomplish. The other 50% is based upon the behaviors they use to achieve those results.

  • As a leader in the organization, you must make it explicitly clear that people will be held accountable in both respects, and perhaps even the potential consequences if they do not act responsibly.

2) Model the Behaviors You Expect to See

  • When interacting with the toxic employee, use the behaviors you would like to see from them.

  • You may find that you need to manage your own frustration, but it is the right thing to do.

  • Remember our ultimate goal as leaders is to do our best to make everyone better.

  • If you happen to see improvement be sure to address the new behavior to the employee as you see or hear it.

3) Document Everything

  • Document any proof of the behavior and your response, including formal complaints, performance evaluations, and/or peer feedback.

  • This paper trail will establish that the behavior was a pattern, that you took steps to address it, warnings or resources provided to the employee, and the failure of the employee to change.

  • Having thorough documentation will protect you and your company if you do need to let the employee go.

4) End/Terminate the Relationship

  • There comes a time when we need to come to terms with our own limits and know when to end or terminate a relationship.

  • If you are dealing with a toxic employee, and you know that you have done everything that you can reasonably do, it may be time to call it quits and move on.

  • You will know that this is the point at which you have gotten to when you are feeling as though you don’t know what else to do, or the person’s behavior is negatively impacting others and you decide that enough is enough.

  • In the end, it may be what is in the best interest of the toxic employee, others on your team, you, and the organization.

  • It is important to manage the potential risk of keeping a toxic employee versus letting them go – sooner than later.

Q: Have you ever been in a situation where a toxic employee was allowed to continue working? How did it affect the work environment? How were you personally affected? How does your past experience shape the way you feel about confronting a toxic team member?

Helpful questions to ask yourself:

  • Are you aware of your own thoughts and emotions about this employee? What are they? How may they be helping or hindering you from taking action?

  • How can you regulate your emotions so that you are in a better place to take action and constructively address the toxic employee's behavior?

  • How will you manage your thoughts and emotions before and during a meeting with the employee to address their toxic behavior?

  • What are your expectations of a constructive result and outcome?

Q: Is there anything in your own attitude or mindset that might be making it difficult for you to address a toxic employee or other difficult situation? How do you currently regulate your own emotions? Is there anything that you can do better? Explain.

Be prepared to coach the toxic employee “up or out,” as soon as you spot a problem behavior. Most employees can be guided to better productivity and more positive work relationships. You, as their leader, just need to act quickly and decisively. Fast action accomplishes two things: It lets the whole team know that you’re holding everyone accountable. And you stop toxic employees before they completely destroy their own credibility or their team. So, as daunting as it might seem, if you have identified a toxic employee, it is imperative that you do something about it sooner rather than later.

Application Activities

  1. Evaluate how you respond in high-stress situations. Do you respond aggressively? Or do you shrink back and waiver on your opinions? If you want to be able to address toxic employees, you will have to learn how to manage your own emotions in difficult conversations. Start by paying attention to how you respond the next time you are in a difficult conversation. Make a goal for the next time that will help you make a small improvement. If you tend to respond quickly and lash out, try to count to three in your head before you respond. If you tend to backtrack on your main points, pick one point that you will refuse to back down on and come up with a few statements that will help you stand your ground.

  2. Look at your system for documenting bad behavior. If you are not familiar with the process, spend some time talking to HR, or if you are a small business owner, brush up on best practices. If there are any situations that need to be documented, don’t wait!

  3. What are your behavioral expectations for your employees? Can you list them? Can your employees list them? If not, it is time for a refresher! Make sure that the list is comprehensive but easy to understand and remember. Get everyone on board with the expectations and stress that you won’t see every time one of these expectations is broken, so it is up to everyone to protect the culture.

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